Vector collage of diverse students participating in various extracurriculars

Exploring Extracurricular Activities in College: How to Find the Best Opportunities

Wondering what college extracurriculars are all about? Check out this guide on everything you need to know about finding and joining clubs on campus.

As soon as you receive your college acceptance letter, you'll hear nothing but “Get involved on campus!" "Meet new people!" and "Sign up for as much as you can!” from everyone who has been there, done that. That's because it's good advice—extracurricular activities are one of the best ways to meet new people, make friends, add to your résumé, have fun, and get involved at your college! If you're wondering what kind of activities, clubs, and events await you on campus, get a preview with this ultimate guide. 

Getting started at the activities fair

Within the first week of the fall semester, there's usually an extracurricular activities fair held on campus. Every organization attends so students can gather more information on the clubs they might want to join. You'll find everything from art clubs and multicultural organizations to intramural sports and special-interest groups. There are usually one or two representatives from each group at a table with a signup sheet.

Going up to a table with an upperclassman staring back at you can be kind of intimidating, but don’t hesitate to sign up for something you're interested in hearing more about. And don’t worry—signing your name doesn’t mean you’re signing your life away. It is completely commitment-free! You'll most likely be put on an email list to receive more information on the group itself as well as dates for tryouts, meeting times, or information sessions. Always wondered what Ultimate Frisbee was all about but had your heart set on Model UN? Feel free to sign up for as many things as you want; you can worry about committing and fitting them into your schedule later.

Related: Extracurricular Activities: The Big Secret to Winning at College Life

Time commitment

Once you get accustomed to your new schedule, you'll figure out how much spare time you have—or don’t have—to dedicate to the club(s) of your choice. Keep in mind that some clubs will have more of a time commitment than others. Sports clubs or intramurals may require a few days during the week for practice, then a day on the weekend for a game. On the other hand, student government or multicultural clubs may only have weekly meetings. In the beginning, you may want to start with a few activities, and if your next semester isn’t as busy, you can join another group or two later.

Colleges offer a variety of activities to choose from, so the problem won’t be finding just one that interests you—it will be narrowing them down. And while it's natural for you to gravitate toward the activities you did in high school, college is the time to branch out. Try something that you aren’t so familiar with!

Benefits of joining college clubs

According to Achumboro Ataande, President of the Pre-law Association at the University at Albany, getting involved on campus can help with anxiety caused by classes or tests. “College may be hard at times, but it makes a difference when you have activities and groups where you can use your passion,” he says. Joining clubs on campus is a good way to meet new people—by surrounding yourself with people with similar interests, you'll have easy conversation starters—plus, it's a fun way to strengthen your résumé.

Ataande’s advice for first-year students is “get involved early,” which is why his group tries to create bonds among its members by taking part in community service and sponsoring events as soon as the school year starts. By joining campus clubs and organizations, students gain a sense of security throughout their undergraduate years and into their careers, he says. “Remember—everyone is as afraid as you, so go out and introduce yourself to some people.”

Be a leader—start your own club!

If you don’t see anything at the activities fair that interests you, you could start your own club! Brent Papson, Assistant Director of Student Activities at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, says his University “strives to empower students to create clubs that fuel their passions and encourage them to lead lives of achievement, leadership, and service.” That’s pretty much the attitude you’ll find at any other college or university! If you feel strongly enough about starting something you're passionate about, you can make it happen. Just find a few other students to help you, and together you can address the activities council. If you get enough interested students, you can be the founder of your own club in no time.

Related: How to Create and Support a New Club in 8 Crucial Steps

Examples of real college clubs and organizations

Still not sure what campus activities are all about? Take a look at these examples of cool clubs and organizations found on different campuses:

The Pre-law Association at the University at Albany

More than just a pre-professional organization, the Pre-law Association at the University at Albany tries to create a family atmosphere for Pre-law students, says Ataande. Many students at the University come from miles away, so it’s nice to give them a sense of home. Of course, the association also provides learning experiences—such as seminars given by lawyers, LSAT preparation administrators, and deans of admission—to help students become great lawyers. Members can participate in community service events throughout the year, including Making Strides Against Breast Cancer and Relay for Life, in order to become more involved and raise awareness on campus.

The International Justice Mission at Union University

“The International Justice Mission (IJM) is an excellent organization that combines the need for social justice with our Christian faith,” says Jason Castles, the Director of the Office of Student Leadership Development at Union University. Human rights professionals lead the IJM nonprofit, says Castles, but a group of students lead the IJM campus chapter. Fighting to help individuals suffering from abuses or oppression, the student members promote awareness of injustice across campus to gain support for the victims, he says. According to Castles, the group hopes to teach other people about how they too can pursue justice around the world in order to bring relief to those in need­.

Special-interest groups at Susquehanna University

“From academic clubs to service clubs, we have a wide range of options for students,” Papson says. At Susquehanna, you can join the fast-growing Belly Dance Circle Club, or you can live in campus housing designated just for the Pokemon Club. For those interested in communications and public relations, the Sterling Communications Club provides real-life experiences by allowing students to assist clients of public relations firms in creating print ads, press releases, and more. Lastly, the Disaster Response Team prepares students with the proper techniques for responding to disasters in the local community and around the country. With clubs like these, “students can apply what they learn in the classroom to cocurricular activities, which makes them even better prepared for the ‘real world,’” Papson says.

5 things to know about extracurriculars as a first-year

Jason Castles, Director of the Office of Student Leadership Development at Union, says there are some key factors to keep in mind when it comes to getting involved on campus during your first year at college:

  1. Remember that students who are involved in at least one campus organization will show greater college satisfaction and are more likely to graduate.
  2. Joining email lists, Twitter, and Facebook groups can be a great low-pressure way to learn more about a student organization on campus.
  3. Learn specific details about potential clubs and organizations before you join, like how often they meet, the organization’s size, annual campus and community projects, fees or dues, and other key facts.
  4. Student organizations can be a great way to get experience in multiple academic areas! For example, if you love theater but are not majoring in it, consider joining a theater club instead.
  5. Remember that depth of involvement, not breadth, is what matters. Ask yourself: How will the organization be better because you were a member? How can you be a significant part of a project? Give your time and talents to only a select number of groups.  

Related: What I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before College

Is joining an extracurricular worth it?

Are campus clubs and extracurricular activities worth all this time and effort? The answer is simple—yes! Not only does getting involved on campus help build your résumé, but it also gives you a whole new perspective and access to different opportunities that you wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise. After four (or more) years fly by, you may realize that many of your closest friends and best memories came from those extracurricular clubs. Besides, sometimes you just have to take a break from homework and do something you really enjoy.

Ready to find a school with a lot of fun campus activities? Check out our list of Colleges and Universities With Extracurriculars That Students Love.

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